ANNAPOLIS — Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, is trying to make it a civil violation, not a crime, to abandon a refrigerator in Maryland.
Violators no longer would face up to 30 days in jail.
But the maximum fine would increase from $100 to $5,000 under a bill Parrott filed.
Parrott said it was ridiculous that Maryland makes improper disposal of a refrigerator a misdemeanor.
He said some state laws are outdated and need to be changed.
Maryland's Criminal Law says a person can't abandon or discard a refrigerator, icebox or freezer cabinet outside a building "in a place accessible to children," "uncrated" and with "a door or a lock that cannot be released for opening from the inside."
Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley said he has heard of children dying after being trapped in refrigerators, but he wasn't sure when and where.
He also didn't know if state police have charged anyone criminally with abandoning a refrigerator.
In 1956, Congress passed a Refrigerator Safety Act that makes it illegal for household refrigerators to be sold across state lines without a device allowing them to be opened from the inside. Violating the act was a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
The act later was modified to increase the penalties, to $500,000 for organizations and $250,000 for individuals if someone has died, and to $200,000 for organizations and $100,000 for individuals if no one has died, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's website.
The website talks about the dangers of old-style refrigerators that cannot be opened from within, some of which are still in use.
"Double deaths are not uncommon because children naturally enjoy playing together, and old refrigerators provide an interesting place to play," a commission warning says. "However, when the door slams shut, it is dark and the normally innocent and familiar refrigerator becomes a death trap. Suffocation then ensues because the tight fitting gasket, which is on the inside of the door to seal in the cold, cuts off the child's air. This along with the insulated construction of a refrigerator also prevents the children's screams for help from being heard."
The commission suggests removing the door from old refrigerators that are no longer used, chaining and padlocking them or disabling the latch so the door won't lock.
Parrott said he wanted to make the maximum penalty $2,500 and have the fine increase according to the rate of inflation, but the law must have a specific dollar amount.
His bill wasn't prompted by any specific instance of refrigerator abandonment.
"We were looking to see what laws need to be updated," he said.
Parrott said he has other ideas, which might become bills in future years.
His bill has three co-sponsors, including Del. Michael J. Hough, R-Frederick/Washington.